We’ve counted almost three out of every four Minnesotans, give or take.
It’s three out of four if you’re filling out the 2020 census form in a county like Hennepin or Goodhue or Ramsey or Rock.
If you’re in the Arrowhead or up by Lake of the Woods, it’s more like one out of three.
We’ve counted half of Pine County, half of Crow Wing. Five percent of the Red Lake Nation.
There’s still time to make sure everyone counts. But we’re halfway through this endless plague year and the first census takers just headed out to knock on doors.
There’s still time. Just ... not as much as we had before the White House decided to wrap the count up a month early.
Census takers, hired from the communities where they’ll be door knocking, have until Sept. 30. That’s a month and a half to persuade their neighbors fill out a five-minute form that could determine whether Minnesota loses a seat in Congress.
The economy is in a tailspin. George Floyd is dead and he shouldn’t be.
The pandemic is killing a thousand Americans a day.
A national head count seems like a small thing in comparison.
“This pandemic is wiping out the bandwidth of everyone,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO of the Blandin Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping rural communities like the ones around her in Itasca County, where the census response rate currently hovers around 52%. “We’re already fatigued and the census becomes one more thing we have to do.”
But everyone is counting on everyone getting counted.
Palmer has spent years writing grants for chronically undercounted communities in northern Minnesota. She knows firsthand what happens when the numbers on paper don’t match a community’s actual need.
“It matters so much,” she said. “I would have to use census data and I would know there were more than X-number of people in that community.”
The census answers America’s questions about itself. It tells us who we are. Which of our communities are growing, which of our demographics are shifting.
Hundreds of federal programs rely on census data: Medicaid, student loans, the school lunch program, federal highway funds, Head Start, food stamps, affordable housing, rural development grants. Communities use census data to decide whether to build new schools — schools that didn’t get built because the most undercounted group in the 2010 census were children under age 5.
Businesses use population data to decide where to set up shop. Nonprofits rely on the numbers to decide where to steer their limited funds.
In rural Minnesota, hit hard by the economic downturn, an undercount could undercut community recovery aid for the next decade.
Cities and counties have been preparing for this census for years, only to watch those plans fall apart like everything else in 2020.
Just as the community outreach was about to start up in the spring, COVID-19 shut everything down. Now, the Trump administration is threatening to cut off the final month of outreach.
“It’s just quite terrible, to be honest,” said St. Paul City Council Member Mitra Jalali.
The people the count is likely to miss are the people we can least afford to overlook. Low-income families who could use some help. Immigrants. Renters. New babies.
“It’s a count of every human being. It’s literally trying to reach every single person,” Jalali said. “We’re counting people who live in homeless encampments and who are incarcerated and who were just, just born. People who just got to planet Earth. All of them are in the count.”
The census, she said, is just “a scientific tool that our country needs to do policy.”
In a year of death and fear and alternative facts, it would be nice to have one true thing. This is the complete 2020 census, we could say. This is us.
If you haven’t been counted, visit 2020census.gov. We’re counting on you.